Amid insults, Mercedes and BMW both claim U.S. luxury crown
Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA: “Volumes can be manipulated. Registrations, not so easy.”
Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been trading insults for six weeks, ever since BMW sprinted ahead of Mercedes in December to snatch the 2012 luxury-sales crown in the United States.
The late burst by BMW led to the bickering, which ratcheted up last week as Mercedes laid claim to being the true winner based on newly released vehicle registration data.
"We suspected that would be the case," said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA. "As far as we're concerned, we're the leader in the luxury segment, at least when you're talking about cars in customer hands. Volumes can be manipulated. Registrations, not so easy."
Mercedes accuses BMW of padding its sales numbers by including vehicles that dealers bought as loaner vehicles. It argues that loaners aren't retail sales and that many of those vehicles weren't even put into the loaner fleet.
BMW says its numbers are "solid" and denies fixing the figures, but says Mercedes has done so in the past. And BMW executives say Mercedes is a sore loser.
Through Feb. 19, R.L. Polk & Co. says 272,674 Mercedes-Benz vehicles -- excluding Sprinter vans -- that were sold in 2012 in the U.S. had been registered. BMW registrations came to 267,649. Polk says it waited for data from all 50 states and is confident the numbers represent most of the vehicles retailed last year.
BMW reported U.S. sales of 281,460 units in 2012 -- 7,376 more than Mercedes-Benz. But the Polk numbers show a 13,811 gap between BMW's sales and registration figures. The gap is substantially bigger than in 2011 and 2010.
BMW issued a statement that denied wrongdoing. "BMW had extraordinary sales in December because of the new X1 and availability of all-wheel drive in the new 3 series. State-provided registration data, as reported by Polk, can lag 60 or even 90 days after an especially strong sales month. Throw in a holiday and the delay is inevitable. That's what is playing out here. The BMW sales numbers are solid."
Polk analyst Tom Libby said discrepancies between sales and registrations are common. But he said gaps like BMW's do "not happen often." The Polk numbers show that 2012 sales reported by Audi, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz are 1 percent higher than the registration numbers. BMW's are 5 percent higher. "I do not know why this manufacturer was exceptionally higher," Libby said.
Joseph Agresta, president of Benzel-Busch Motor Car Corp. in Englewood, New Jersey, and chairman of the Mercedes-Benz dealer council, says the race isn't important to dealers or customers. "Maybe it's more meaningful to the manufacturers or the press," he said. "It is not something dealers talk about or anything I have heard on the showroom floor from customers."
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